Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category


Story of Behavior Modification

The passengers in my car demonstrated a nervous twitch, especially as I approached stop lights. Out of the side of my eye, I could see them moving their foot toward the front of the floor board to step on an imaginary break and grabbing the arm rest. My wife in particular was beginning to complain more about my driving. “It was red!” she would say with some disapproving tone. Yes, I did frequently see the red of the red light as I raced through the intersection at the last moment. “If I stop too quickly,” I rationalized, “I would have been rear ended by the guy behind me.” I knew that was an exaggeration because my heart would ramp up a bit myself. Of course, it was a real pain to have to stop and wait and wait for the light to change. So after one close call and a frightened yell by a passenger, I knew I needed to do something about this potentially hazardous habit. But it was not that simple to just quit. It was a very strong habit cultivated over several years.

I had heard of behavior modification as a technique to change behaviors. Would that work here? How? After some thought I decided to make a game of it. I decided that if I was the first person in line at a stop light, it meant I had stopped instead of driving through. If I was second in line or further back, then I had no part in deciding to stop as it was necessary to avoid hitting the car in front of me. So, I made some rules. If I was first in line, I would award myself one point. If I saw red on a light as I drove through an intersection, I would loose all my points and have to start all over. I decided that was not harsh enough. Instead of losing all my points I would go to minus 10 meaning I would have to successfully stop ten times before I even got to zero. I did not count the number of times I got set back to minus 10 because it happened a lot the first couple of months. In the third month I got as high as plus 20 once only to get set back to minus 10.

I decided that making my game public to my friends and co-workers would help apply social pressure. People would ask me how I was doing, what my score was, and what the rules of the game were. Some even began to play the game too. It amused me that some wanted to know if they were following the rules correctly. I had to explain that is was not a real game, that they could make up any rules that would help them accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. After about six months, I finally reached a score of 150. I decided that I had probably been successful in modifying my behavior and could stop playing. It worked! Ever since then my wife and other passengers ride with me with more comfort or at least they don’t stomp on the break on their side of the car and I don’t see red as I pass through the intersection any more.

I am now an advocate of self made games. Something you want to change? Make a game out of it with rules that will help you change the behavior.


I was taking my grandson home from church in suburban Portland Oregon in the late Fall of the year. He had just recently turned seven.  I happened to have the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the CD player of my car.  The choir sang and when they came to the part “and He shall reign forever and ever” repeatedly, by grandson asked me, “Pop Pop, is that an Oregonian song?”

“Why would you ask that” I puzzled.

“Because they say it is going to rain for ever and ever.”

Well, it does seem to rain for ever and ever in Portland in the fall and winter, so I had a little explaining to do about “rain” and “reign”.


Story as Antidote to Dogma

The following story has been shared with numerous clergy.  The general reaction is “That was interesting, but …”.  Generally the “but” relates to the fact that it does not follow traditional dogma about the story.  Originally, this idea was spawned when I learned that the Hebrew that refers to Jacob’s opponent is best interpreted as “a man”, not as an angel or God as many translations use– I think because, once again, dogma from many generations of scholars simply accepted the standard interpretation of the meaning of this story.  So, I present the story, first faithful to the scriptural record and then with another alternative ending not in contradiction to the scriptures.  For what it is worth…

Another Interpretation of the Jacob and Esau Story – Esau’s Trick

By Cecil Denney

The story of Jacob and Esau recorded in Genesis is a story with intrigue and irony. Jacob, who received the undeserved blessing, who had to flee for his life, and who was himself tricked by his uncle Laben finally wins the bribe of his eye. Yet, there may be more to this story than has traditionally understood. We read that Esau was twice tricked by his brother. First Esau is tricked out of his birthright by Jacob, then Jacob steals Issac’s blessing of the first born intended for Esau. In rage Esau swears “…I will kill my brother Jacob” (Gen 27:41) and Jacob must flee for his life. Although Issac did not give his blessing to Esau, he did promise “but when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Gen 27:40) I think he remembered this promise! So we find the “blessed” Jacob fleeing, in mortal fear to his uncle Laben. There he falls in love with Rachel, the younger of Laben’s two daughters. Laben exacts a price of seven years work for the hand of Rachel. But now it is Jacob’s turn to be tricked and he ends up with the elder Leah. Laben then exacts another seven years of work for Rachel’s hand. Jacob appears to prosper with many sons, and he aspires to return to his home country. When Laben objects, Jacob works his own trick with Laben’s flocks. His wives, Laben’s daughters steal their father’s gold and Jacob once again flees, but this time back to Caanen from whence he came. When Laben catches up with him, Rachel manages to hide the stolen gods (gold) and Jacob throws a “hissy fit” and shames Laben into making a peace pack. Now he had to face another possible problem, Esau. So, he sends a delegation ahead to Esau with cattle to assuage and soften Esau. But when the delegation returns, he learns that Esau is personally coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. In fear of his life, Jacob splits up his band so that if one is destroyed, the other might survive. Having once believed that God had told him to return, he now questions his safety and becomes humble in the face of his impending disaster. He prays for safety reminding God of his promises. He devises a scheme to appease Esau sending successive waves of servants ahead with cattle as presents for Esau. Meanwhile, Jacob stays in the camp sending his wives, maids, and children away, leaving himself utterly alone to contemplate his fate. So far, what is written is reflected in this story. At this point, I will interject my own speculation of the meaning of the rest of the story. Esau, who many, many years earlier was willing to kill Jacob has himself prospered. His anger has diminished, but his sibling rivalry is still active as is reflected in coming with four hundred men. He will not be tricked again. But as the waves of servants and cattle meet him with presents, he realizes that Jacob still fears for his life and he decides Jacob deserves a little trick from his older brother. His spies learn that Jacob is alone, so in the cover of a moonless night, Esau, always the more rugged of the two sneaks into Jacobs camp and wrestles with him. Esau is at advantage since he knows Jacob, but Jacob has no idea that his brother as approached him, thinking he is with the four hundred men. To Esau’s surprise, Jacob has grown strong too, so they struggle through the night until finally, Esau manages to dislocate Jacob’s hip. He now has struck mortal fear and escapes before daylight and without identifying himself leaving Jacob to believe he has struggled with an Angel of God. He is injured, but he feels he won the battle. God has spared him. He has been humbled once again. The next day, Jacob approached Esau realizing it could be his last. He bows and scrapes before Esau and his four hundred men. Esau’s heart melts on seeing his long forgiven little brother humble himself and he is ashamed of his little trick and never tells Jacob. What is there to make of this new possible (not negated by scripture) story line? I think this is the old testament story of the prodigal son, but with a twist. While a father might accept his son without reservation, this is a story of a sibling who in all rights might have rejected his brother for his ill deeds. He did not seek revenge. He did not even accept Jacob’s offer of gifts. He only exacted a small harmless trick that turned out God used to strengthen Jacob’s faith. No doubt, Jacob had to explain his limp to his brother when they met and seeing Jacob’s faith in God, Esau chose not to destroy it with the truth.


There was a community that was very religious.  Someone, a long, long time ago wrote about God.  They all believed this writing was holy and to be believed to the word as long as they ignored certain words of warning.  It was a very comforting faith because no matter how difficult things were today, this book of writings about God promised that there was life after death and all you had to do to have that extended life was to utter certain words, with sincerity and passion.  And when you had done that, you could go your way, do your thing, ignore those who had not uttered the words, make serious purposeful mistakes, be forgiven, over and over, rape the land, pollute the sky, poison the oceans, and be forgiven, assured that there was an infinite future, a wonderful reward that would last forever.

Now if you did not utter the words with sincerity and passion, fully meaning what you said, it did not count.  You would be destined to live forever in a kind of hell along with all those who did not utter the magic words.  But, if you meant it, truly, you were safe and secure knowing that all the others who had done so would be with you in this great place of reward after you died.

One day, somebody who did not believe in magic said there was a problem in the world.  They had observed that by raping the earth, polluting the sky, poisoning the oceans, and oh yes, burning up some goo that the earth had been incubating for thousands, and thousands of years in a little more than a hundred years, the natural world was protesting.  But the faithful did not worry because their future was safe and secure, even after they died, forever.  They even believed that the earth would end but they would get their reward.  Their writings told them to multiply and subdue the earth, so they did.  They were inventive and used the goo to grow more food, build great engines, and populate the earth.  No problem if this was not sustainable.  They had a promise.   They would be going to the great reward and those who did not believe in magic would be left behind in their hell on earth.

Over the years, many of the believers died.  Nobody ever heard from them again.  Even so, those still alive believed they would see their deceased friends in the future in a great place of reward.  Meanwhile, the rape, pollution, and poisoning continued.  Then, one day, it did get warmer, the polar caps did melt, the oceans did rise, storms became severe and frequent, fires were common, water, oddly enough, became scarce.  The great experiment called homo sapiens was called to account.  God, as it turned out, was part of nature itself.  Judgement was administered.  The experiment ended.  This time, there was no boat to board to save a few for the future reclamation of the earth.  Believer and non-believer alike were gone.  Their friends, if they were enjoying their great reward, did not care.  They got theirs.  They just assumed the rest went to hell.

Belief like this is not enough, maybe not even the correct way to live!